We know that having dinner together as a family is something important to do. Search the internet and you'll find all kinds of reasons from it being cheaper to stronger families to better nutrition. However, I wonder if there is something deeper going on with the family dinner ... perhaps something covenantal.
Here is my theory:
Marriage is a covenant. It is an exchange of persons wherein I say "I am yours and you are mine." (vs. a contract wherein we exchange goods, things, services). A covenant in ancient times was unbreakable and was what was used to bring new members into the family. We see this in the ancient Jewish culture, Greek and Roman (see Scott Hahn's 'Kinship by Covenant' and Fustel de Coulanges 'The Ancient City'). This covenant was ratified by an oath, a sacrifice and some sort of common meal. We see these ancient traditions still in our marriage ceremonies. We begin the marriage ceremony, for example, by invoking God (in the name of the Father ...), we swear an oath to each other ( ... till death do us part), we give ourselves to each other in the conjugal act (a sacrificial act) and celebrate with a festive meal (the wedding feast).
So, with this as the background, can we not see elements of this ancient covenant ritual in the family dinner. We begin the dinner with prayer invoking our God in thanks for the blessings He has provided. Sometimes, as in my family, this includes a song based on the liturgical season we are in. Then we sit down and eat together. I wonder if this is somehow a reflection, an echo of the wedding feast ... could we not be in some way renewing our covenant as a husband and wife and as a family to each other in this breaking of bread together?
To put it even more practically: what happens at the dinner table? At dinner, we are present. We hear the opinions of each person, there is discussion, laughter, crying (from the little guys that are tired and need to go to bed), and connection. Here at the table we see each other again as a family. We are one. We are united, despite our differences, in this breaking of our bread.
Perhaps this is why the family is called the domestic church. At Holy Mass, we also come together in the name of God, Christ is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, and then we become united through the common meal (Holy Communion) of partaking in His flesh and blood. The Mass is a renewing of our covenant with God and His covenant with us. Is not, could not, the family dinner be this also - even if just informally?
Thus is my theory. Family dinner is good for all the reasons that your internet search will give you, but I believe it is efficacious because there is a hint or a trace of an ancient marriage covenant renewal happening here. If this is to be true, even partially, it behooves my wife and I, for the sake of our marriage and family, to eat dinner together as a family together as much as possible.
And the octave of Christmas is a great time to start. Eight days of Christmas and eight family meals together.
Have a blessed Christmas!